Community Care Over Self-Care

Unlike community care, self-care consumption rituals are unequally accessible and rarely prevent burnout

In These Times Editors

Illustration by Terry Laban

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com • mu • ni • ty • care

"Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people" — Nakita Valerio, Community Organizer, in a viral Facebook post after the 2019 terrorist attack in New Zealand.

noun

1. a commitment to supporting collective well-being, rooted in interconnectedness

So like self-care, but more?

Sort of. Discussions of self-care often reference writer and activist Audre Lorde: Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

But Lorde’s radical conception of self-care has largely been washed away by a sea of consumerism. The type of self-care that most recently dominates on social media, for example, is geared toward quick consumer fixes to cope with what really amounts to just living under capitalism. Like getting a pedicure just for you.”

Community care means recognizing, first, that many don’t have the time or money to engage in the consumption rituals typically sold as self-care. And, second, that those rituals are rarely any sort of real antidote to burnout and isolation.

We all need nourishment, rest and connection. Community care is a commitment to making sure no one around us goes without.

If self-care is bubble baths and eye masks, what’s community care look like?

The likelihood that institutional structures will meet our most basic needs varies dramatically along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality and ability — and when those institutions fail, being able to depend on community care is a matter of life and death. Mutual aid, eviction defense, jail support and more can be vital forms of community care. Or it might be as simple as offering to babysit so an overwhelmed friend has a minute for themself. 

Do we need community care, or structural change?

Both! Community care is a part of how we get structural change. Consider childcare collectives that enable parents to participate in movements, or community fundraisers to support a family fighting deportation. Failing to provide those forms of care severely limits who can fight for structural change.

But we can also think about baking community care into the changes we want to see. There’s no substitute for universal healthcare and housing, but those programs become even more appealing when we start to talk about the difference they’d make in our ability to care for ourselves and each other. Think how much less alienated and fearful we might be if everyone had access to, say, high-quality childcare and homecare, mental healthcare and support groups, or multigenerational public housing so we could more easily maintain rich social connections as we age. 

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